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Meet Clara – Fashion Businesswoman, Curious Introvert, TechLady

The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #3. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that'll inspire you to start learning how to code!

Clara Chow

If you could tell a story about yourself in one or a few sentences, what would it be?

A very socially awkward but curious introvert, that asks ‘why?’ too much. It is hard to convince me not to do something once I’ve set my mind on it.

Oh also, I like puns and I struggle with mornings.

What are you currently working as?

I have been running my online boutique selling self-designed apparel for about 5 years now. It is extremely challenging to manage all facets of the business and be 100% self-disciplined/motivated, but has been a fantastic learning experience. I don’t think any office job would have given me the experience and knowledge I gained whilst struggling without guidance through these years.

What sparked your interest in learning how to code?

I guess some part of me always loved web development. When I was a teenager, I built websites on Geocities for my adopted virtual pets to ‘live’ in. I promise this is cooler than it sounds. What got me hooked on web development was the immediate gratification programming provided — I could insert a code snippet and have the result rendered on the page instantly. To this day, I’m still awed by the magical process of transforming semi-gibberish into functional and useful websites that anyone can see on the WWW.

I wasn’t exactly a model student in school, and performed dismally for my A Levels. This severely limited my options in university and I ended up studying Project & Facilities Management – something I had neither passion nor interest in. After graduation, I worked at a desk job for an unfulfilling year before deciding to take the leap and start my own business.

Again, fashion wasn’t an industry I had particularly keen interest in. After 4+ years, my motivation to persist started waning quickly. I couldn’t see myself staying in this industry for the rest of my life. I thought: “Since I’ve always been keen in technology, why not rekindle that childhood flame? It’s time to move into the tech industry as a programmer.”

What got me hooked on web development was the immediate gratification programming provided — I could insert a code snippet and have the result rendered on the page instantly. To this day, I’m still awed by the magical process of transforming semi-gibberish into functional and useful websites that anyone can see on the WWW.

What was your first thought or reaction when you heard about TechLadies?

“YAASSSS”. I have been trying to pick up rails on my own for over a year now by attending workshops and meetups, but it wasn’t easy without any sort of structured syllabus and guidance. It was hard for me to acquire new knowledge systematically and build on it.

There was also this sense of a lack of purpose — I didn’t know what I wanted to (or could) build. Even if I did, the app would serve no significant purpose. I have toyed with the idea of approaching an NGO on my own to help them with their website, but would always chicken out because I lacked confidence in my own abilities. I didn’t want to take on a project that I couldn’t deliver on. The whole TechLadies initiative and TechLadies Bootcamp was like a sign — there was no excuse for me to not apply.

Why did you want to apply to the TechLadies Bootcamp?

I saw the Bootcamp as a way for me to do ‘disciplined learning’. There was:

  • A clear objective — building a functional app by the end of the bootcamp
  • Structure — weekly meetings with my team and a healthy number of hours I had to put in on my own prior to these meetings
  • A willing, experienced mentor <3
  • The teamwork element — working in a team is obviously more complicated than working solo, involving a whole different set of processes. There is also that sense of mutual support, learning and teaching.
  • A fantastic cause — helping an NGO become more efficient by lightening their administrative load

If you are someone looking to learn how to code, you’ll have to be seriously nuts if you do not at least apply and try to get into the program.

You had to create an app before you could apply to the bootcamp. Tell us more about the app you made!

My app is called The Foodlogger and it’s a meal tracking app. The idea for this app surfaced from a recent visit to the doctor. I have been living with Chronic Urticaria (commonly called Hives) for over a decade now, and recently went for a checkup to see if things have improved. The condition is basically an allergic reaction in the body and the trigger is unknown. Don’t worry! This is not contagious. Feel free to share hugs and high-fives with me!

The doctors did tell me that food is a very likely suspect in causing these daily allergic reactions. They gave me a list of common allergy triggers and suggested that I start a daily food log to find out which food group(s) were possibly contributing to my condition, and so the app was created!

Describe the TechLadies project you’re working on and why you selected this project. 

I am thrilled to be on the Touch Young Arrows (TYA) team! Like many other NGOs, they are currently using Excel spreadsheets to store, sort and analyse data. This process can be tedious, causing conflicts when there are multiple sources of info (which occurs frequently) and is prone to errors.

I picked this project as I was really drawn to the product’s complexity — I love a challenge! I watched the pre-bootcamp video of Grzegorz (the coach for this project) teaching basic Ruby concepts and really liked his teaching style. He could explain complicated concepts in a structured, broken down manner that I could understand for once! It made this project resonate with me even more.

How do you see yourself using your coding skills in the future?

I’m not sure if I have an unrealistic expectation of the future at this point in time, but I’ll like to be able to build complex, decent looking apps and to deploy on my own.

I also want to secure a job as a developer. Coding been really fulfilling for me and I haven’t felt so at ease with myself in a long time. Well… of course the process is frustrating at times when I just can’t get things to work, but in general, I’m really happy now. It is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and I wake up feeling excited to attack the code! In a completely non-violent way, of course. I’d like to be a programmer at a company that could help me further develop my skills.

I would also love to build apps for more NGOs! They get an app, and I build up experience and competency. Everyone wins! If at some point in the future, I would love to spread the joy of coding by sharing my knowledge with other ladies who want to start coding.